5 Ways to Cope With S.A.D.

Do you feel S.A.D.?  Not sad, but S.A.D.  S.A.D. is an acronym for seasonal affective disorder.  The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) doesn’t identify S.A.D. as an independent diagnosis.  Rather it is a specifier applied to recurrent major depressive disorder.  Therefore, the diagnosis would be Major Depressive Disorder with seasonal pattern.  According to the DSM-5 the following four qualifiers must be in place.

  1. There has been a regular temporal relationship between the onset of major depressive episodes in major depressive disorder and a particular time of the year (e.g., in the fall or winter).
  2. Full remission also occur at a characteristic time of the year (e.g., depression disappears in the spring.)
  3. In the last 2 years, two major depressive episodes have occurred that demonstrate the temporal seasonal relationships defined above and no nonseasonal major depressive episodes have occurred during the same period.
  4. Seasonal major depressive episodes substantially outnumber the nonseasonal major depressive episodes that may have occurred over the individuals lifetime.

What these criteria are saying is that symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder have to be prevalent during the same time of the year, every year, consistently, more often than not, during the duration of the person’s lifetime.  Depression is marked by the following symptoms (DSM-5):

  1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
  2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities most of the day
  3. Significant weight loss or weight gain
  4. Insomnia or hypersomnia
  5. Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day
  6. Fatigue or loss of energy
  7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  8. Diminished ability to think or concentrate or indecisiveness nearly everyday
  9. Recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation

If you are experiencing these symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, there are things that you can do to help cope.

  1. Get as much sunlight as you can.  In the winter months, in the U.S. it begins to get dark around 5:30 pm.  It may be helpful to wake up a little earlier to take advantage of more sunlight.  You may want to be more intentional about going out for a walk, or opening your blinds to let as much light in as possible.
  2. Get a light box.  The light given off by a light box mimics the light of the outdoors.  The eye receives the light as it would sunlight and therefore may improve your mood.
  3. Be intentional about planning things that you enjoy and spending time with people that you like to be around.  A depressed mood can keep you isolated and away from people.  The right people are energetic beings who will help boost your mood.  Even if your mood says stay in, challenge yourself to get out and feel the energy from those you love.
  4. Assess what brightens your mood and allows the endorphins to kick in.  Do you have a favorite article of clothes, album, or ritual that really gets you going?  Incorporate that into your daily routine.
  5. Identify the things, people, places that actually drain you and takes energy away from you.  What might it be like to implement some beneficial changes with these things, people and places?

Published by Counseling With Leslie

Leslie Stevens, M.Ed., LPC is a North Carolina and Virginia board certified licensed professional counselor. She owns a successful practice in Carrboro, North Carolina. Through Counseling with Leslie, PLLC, she helps individuals navigate stress, depression, anxiety, and perfectionism. Additionally, she has been a leader, speaker, teacher, mentor and administrator for over 15 years.

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